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Minneapolis, Minnesota: Preserving History and Affordable Housing in Cedar-Riverside

 

The recent renovation of Riverside Plaza in Minneapolis, Minnesota preserves the historic Cedar Square West “New Town-In Town” development — part of HUD’s New Communities Program of the late 1960s and 1970s — and a large share of the affordable housing in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood. The project aligns an array of federal, state, and local funding streams to leverage private investment, and it also complements city, county, and regional planning efforts to link affordable housing to multimodal transportation options and promote neighborhood revitalization. For its accomplishments, Riverside Plaza earned the 2013 National Trust/HUD Secretary’s Award for Excellence in Historic Preservation.

Context and Background

Named after the intersection of Cedar and Riverside avenues, its main thoroughfares, the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood is well defined by Interstate 94 to the south, Interstate 35W to the north and west, and the Mississippi River to the north and east. Land use in Cedar-Riverside is dominated by institutions, including the West Bank Campus of the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, Amplatz Children’s Hospital, Augsburg College, and several Fairview Health Services facilities.1 The remainder of the neighborhood consists of a number of commercial properties; two small, low-density residential areas; and two high-density residential areas that include Riverside Plaza, whose 1,303 apartments constitute 43 percent of all housing units in Cedar-Riverside.2

Settled in the middle of the nineteenth century by German and Scandinavian immigrants, Cedar-Riverside remains a haven for immigrants, who are now predominantly from East Africa (especially Somalia) and East Asia.3 Perhaps because so many institutions of higher education are located nearby, approximately 40 percent of Cedar-Riverside’s residents are enrolled in college or graduate school. Both of these subpopulations support the neighborhood’s large supply of rental units, which make up just under 90 percent of all housing. Affordability is a key concern of residents of Cedar-Riverside, where 43 percent of households have an annual income of less than $10,000 (in 2012 inflation-adjusted dollars), 55 percent of all residents live below the federal poverty level, and 15 percent of adult residents are unemployed.4

The complex now known as Riverside Plaza was completed in 1974 as the first of 10 planned development phases to create a racially and socioeconomically integrated, mixed-use community called Cedar Square West.5 Cedar Square West was the first of the new communities within urban areas (called “New Towns-In Town”) to receive federal support under Title VII of the Housing and Urban Development Act of 1970.6 Following Cedar Square West’s completion, a group of community activists led by the Cedar-Riverside Environmental Defense Fund galvanized to block further construction of the New Town-In Town, leaving the developers in a tenuous financial situation. Financial problems persisted; Cedar Square West went into receivership in 1985, and HUD foreclosed the following year.7 A group of investors led by Sherman Associates purchased the development in 1988, made structural repairs and other improvements, and renamed the property Riverside Plaza.8 Sherman Associates continues to manage the property, now under the ownership of Cedar Riverside Limited Partnership.

The Case for Historic Preservation

Nearly four decades old by 2010, Riverside Plaza required costly renovations to remain viable, including repairs to its failing electrical, mechanical, and plumbing systems.9 The Minnesota Historic Structure Rehabilitation Tax Credit, which had been recently approved by state lawmakers, opened up a potential source of funding that could make such extensive renovations possible, but the site would need to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places to become eligible.10 The case for the historical significance of the site rested on its status as the first and larger of only two New Towns-In Town projects and as a work of architectural significance.11

Cedar Square West is the most prominent remaining monument to renowned Minnesota architect Ralph Rapson’s distinguished career.12 Drawing from European influences such as Le Corbusier’s Unité d’Habitation, Rapson incorporated distinctive design features into the project such as wood grain imprinted in the concrete and colorful exterior panels that were originally intended for tenants to decorate.13 As an artifact of 1970s federal urban development policy and an enduring embodiment of Rapson’s Brutalist architectural style, Cedar Square West was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in December 2010, making the property eligible for federal and state historic tax credits to close financing gaps and make major renovation possible.14

Financing

The Riverside Plaza rehabilitation project aligned several federal, state, and local funding programs with private investments to assemble a $134 million financing package to restructure debt and cover $65 million in construction costs (see table 1).15 The largest financing sources were a HUD-guaranteed first mortgage of nearly $50 million, nearly $30 million in low-income housing tax credits, and close to $30 million in federal and state historic tax credits.16 The Minnesota Housing Finance Agency contributed more than $12 million and the city of Minneapolis added $1.9 million from its Affordable Housing Trust Fund. An additional $400,000 in funds came from 19 custom energy rebate programs created specifically for Riverside Plaza by energy providers CenterPoint Energy and Xcel Energy.17


Table 1. Riverside Plaza Financing

4% Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Equity $29,106,637
HUD-Guaranteed First Mortgage $49,950,000
Federal Historic Tax Credits $14,767,244
State Historic Tax Credits $14,126,603
Minnesota Housing Finance Agency Economic Development and Housing Challenge $7,016,350
Minnesota Housing Finance Agency Preservation Affordable Rental Investment Fund $5,083,650
City of Minneapolis Affordable Housing Trust Fund $1,900,000
Greater Metropolitan Housing Corporation $1,300,000
Metropolitan Council Local Housing Incentives Account $575,000
Family Housing Fund $200,000
Deferred Developer Fee $3,000,000
Seller Equity $2,000,000
Cash Flow – Operations for total development costs $2,962,909
Energy Rebates $400,000
Hennepin County Environmental Response Fund $150,000
Metropolitan Council Tax Base Revitalization Account $1,100,000
Total $133,638,393

Renovation

The rehabilitation remediated the aging electrical and mechanical systems, enhanced energy efficiency, and upgraded apartments and common areas. Walls in each of the 1,303 residential units were demolished to replace the pipes and the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning network. Except for adding soffits to conceal sprinkler pipes and making 56 units accessible, the project generally preserved the apartments’ original design.18 New heating and cooling systems, refurbished windows, and new patio doors are expected to reduce energy consumption by more than 25 percent, and the updated water system should reduce waste and wait times for hot water.19 Fully 90 percent of the units are affordable, including 669 Section 8 units and an additional 505 units affordable to households earning less than 60 percent of the area median income. The remaining 129 units are market rate. Riverside Plaza has 171 studio, 532 one-bedroom, 534 two-bedroom, 58 three-bedroom, and 8 four-bedroom or larger apartments; almost half of the Section 8 units are two-bedroom apartments.20

Exterior and site improvements included repair and replacement of sidewalks, fences, and handrails and — critical to preserving the historic integrity of the structure — repainting of the famous colored panels, returning them to their original bold hues.21 Neighborhood amenities, such as improved bicycle and pedestrian accessibility, were added.22 The Cedar Riverside Community School, a K-8 charter school that has been housed in Riverside Plaza for more than 20 years, was also renovated and expanded.23 The project addressed area crime concerns through improved lighting and signs, security cameras, improved cooperation between Riverside Plaza’s owners and the Minneapolis Police Department, and a staffed safety center.24

The renovation of Riverside Plaza contributes to the city’s neighborhood revitalization efforts, which include investment in public infrastructure and transit.25 Riverside Plaza residents live just a short walk to the Cedar-Riverside light rail station on Metro Transit’s METRO Blue Line (Hiawatha), which runs north-south from downtown Minneapolis to the Mall of America, and the West Bank station on the nearly completed Green Line (Central Corridor), which runs east-west from downtown St. Paul, through the University of Minnesota, to downtown Minneapolis.26 The Hiawatha LRT bike trail runs through the neighborhood parallel to the Blue Line.27

Preserving Affordable Housing

The rehabilitation of Riverside Plaza preserves what former mayor R. T. Rybak called “a Minneapolis icon” and, because of the neighborhood’s importance to successive generations of immigrants, “our Ellis Island . . . our Statue of Liberty.”28 Riverside Plaza, which remains a significant source of affordable housing for the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood, enhances the quality of life of its thousands of residents and contributes to the city’s sustainability goals through its improved energy efficiency. The renovation of Riverside Plaza has also contributed to broader revitalization efforts in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood, including new light rail service, street improvements, and other housing development, including two projects adjacent to Riverside Plaza — the renovation of a 539-unit public housing complex and planned new construction of a 259-unit mixed-income rental development.29 Although Cedar Square West failed to live up to many of the ideals of the New Towns-In Town planners, Riverside Plaza has become a success story of historic preservation that also preserves quality affordable housing.



  1. Judith A. Martin. 1978. Recycling the Central City: The Development of a New Town-In Town, Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, 15–9. Accessed 6 January 2014; Charlene K. Roise and Elizabeth A. Gales. 2010. “Draft: National Register of Historic Places Registration Form,” Hess, Roise and Company, section 8, 2. Accessed 6 January 2014.

  2. City of Minneapolis Community Planning and Economic Development. 2010. “Cedar Riverside Neighborhood — Existing Land Use.” Accessed 6 January 2014; U.S. Census Bureau. “Census Tract 1048, Hennepin County, Minnesota,” 2008–12 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, American FactFinder. Accessed 6 January 2014. All demographic information reflects the census tract in which Riverside Plaza is located. The tract is roughly coterminous with the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood, excluding the West Bank campus of the University of Minnesota. Census tract 1048, Hennepin County, Minnesota.

  3. Martin, 11; U.S. Census Bureau.

  4. U.S. Census Bureau.

  5. B. Warner Shipee. 1978. “Foreword,” in Martin, ix; Roise and Gales, 4, section 7, 1.

  6. Martin, 71, 101.

  7. Roise and Gales, section 8, 12–4.

  8. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. 2013. “Riverside Plaza in Minneapolis Receives National Trust/HUD Secretary’s Award for Excellence in Historic Preservation,” Press release, 1 November; Multifamily Housing Department, City of Minneapolis Community Planning and Economic Development Department. 2011. “Affordable Housing Inventory Project Data Worksheet: Riverside Plaza,” in Laney Barhaugh, Justin Elston, and Vicki Hooper. 2011. “The Riverside Plaza Renovation Project Memorandum of Understanding: A Snapshot.” Accessed 10 January 2014.

  9. Email correspondence with Andrew Swartz, Blumentals Architecture, Inc., 16 January 2014.

  10. Brigid Tuck and David Nelson. 2011. “Economic Impact of Projects Leveraged by the Minnesota Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit,” University of Minnesota Extension Center for Community Vitality, 1. Accessed 6 January 2014.

  11. Roise and Gales, 4.

  12. Nancy Miller. 2006. “Arrested Development,” Architecture Minnesota 32:1, 40.

  13. Martin, 115; Roise and Gales, sections 8, 9, 17.

  14. Minnesota Historical Society. “Cedar Square West.” Accessed 6 January 2014.

  15. Sherman Associates and Community Planning and Economic Development Department, City of Minneapolis. 2012. “$65 Million Renovation of Iconic Riverside Plaza Is Complete.” Press release, 10 October; email correspondence with Bonnie Kollodge, Metropolitan Council, 24 February 2014; email correspondence with John Evans, Hennepin County Department of Environmental Services, 24 February 2014.

  16. Sherman Associates. “Riverside Plaza Rehabilitation Details.” Accessed 6 January 2014.

  17. City of Minneapolis Community Planning and Economic Development. 2013. “Riverside Plaza.” Accessed 6 January 2014; Sherman Associates; City of Minneapolis Community Planning and Economic Development. 2010. “Request for City Council Committee Action from the Department of Community Planning and Economic Development,” 26 October. Accessed 24 February 2014.

  18. Email correspondence with Andrew Swartz, Blumentals Architecture, Inc., 16 January 2014; Knutson Construction. “Riverside Plaza.” Accessed 10 January 2014.

  19. Sherman Associates and City of Minneapolis Community Planning and Economic Development Department; email correspondence with Andrew Swartz, Blumentals Architecture, Inc., 16 January 2014. Multifamily Housing Department, City of Minneapolis Community Planning and Economic Development Department. 2011.

  20. Cedar Riverside Limited Partnership and City of Minneapolis. 2010. “Memorandum of Understanding: Riverside Plaza Project,” 4. Accessed 6 January 2014; Email correspondence with Andrew Swartz, Blumentals Architecture, Inc., 16 January 2014.

  21. Cedar Riverside Limited Partnership and City of Minneapolis, 4, 6–7.

  22. Sherman Associates and City of Minneapolis Community Planning and Economic Development Department.

  23. Cedar Riverside Limited Partnership and City of Minneapolis, 3–7.

  24. Sherman Associates and City of Minneapolis Community Planning and Economic Development Department.

  25. Metropolitan Council. “Central Corridor Light Rail Transit.” Accessed 10 January 2013; Metropolitan Council. “Route.” Accessed 10 January 2014.

  26. Metro Bike Trails Guide. “Hennepin County Trails.” Accessed 10 January 2014.

  27. Sherman Associates and City of Minneapolis Community Planning and Economic Development Department; AFL-CIO Housing Investment Trust. 2011. “Groundbreaking Celebrates Startup of Riverside Plaza Renovation Work.” Accessed 10 January 2014.

  28. City of Minneapolis Community Planning and Economic Development. “Cedar Riverside/West Bank Initiative Page.” Accessed 10 January 2014; Minneapolis City Council. 2013. “Official Proceedings: Regular Meeting of December 6, 2013,” 1674–5. Accessed 15 January 2014.